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The Historic Neighborhood of Punda

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Punda was the first area in Willemstad to be colonized by the Dutch, and today has become famous for the superb condition of its colorful, 18th-century buildings. Although we lived in Otrobanda, we crossed the bay almost daily to spend time in Punda, to eat, shop, or just enjoy the neighborhood’s lively atmosphere.

When it was originally settled, this neighborhood was called “De Punt” (“The Point”), a name which eventually evolved into Punda. Willemstad’s most historic buildings are found here, from Fort Amseterdam and the Fortkerk to the Mikvé Emmanuel-Israel Synagogue. And this is the location of the Handelskade: the waterfront collection of multi-colored buildings that has become Curaçao’s most emblematic image.

Over the years, Punda has developed a split personality, in its attempts to please two completely different sets of people. This is ground-zero for cruise ship tourism, and when ships are in port, you’ll find thousands of foreigners roaming the streets of Punda, ordering over-priced meals along the Saint Anna Bay and raiding souvenir shops. But the neighborhood is equally popular with locals, who come here to work and socialize.

If you’re in the mood for local grub, Punda is the place to go. Plasa Bieu might be the most popular spot to try Curaçaoan fare, but there are any number of other affordable joints. We love the Kowloon Restaurant on Keukenstraat, as well as Yat Sun Snack across from the Floating Market. Don’t let the Chinese names throw you off — these restaurants are Curaçaoan through-and-through. We can also recommend the Latin flavors at Kriollomanía and Yammie Madness Chef, for their food as much as for their names. And we liked they tiny Restaurante Simone, for Indian dishes via Suriname.

Not many people reside in Punda, any longer; the neighborhood has become almost strictly for business, eating and shopping. But this always has been, and likely always will be the center of Willemstad… and thus of Curaçao. And we’ve found it impossible to spend time here, without enjoying ourselves. If you’re not smiling in Punda, you’re probably the only one.

Locations on our Map: Handelskade | Plasa Bieu | Kowloon | Yat Sun Snack | Krillomanía | Yammie Madness Chef | Restaurante Simone

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February 6, 2016 at 8:51 pm Comment (1)

The Mansions of Scharloo

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Found across the Waaigat Bay from Punda, Scharloo is the newest of Willemstad’s four historic districts and, as evidenced by its abundance of stately mansions, was home to Curaçao’s richest citizens. Today, the wealthy have moved on to other neighborhoods, but the mansions have remained.

Scharloo Mansions Willemstad

Because it was outside of the city walls, Scharloo had been considered an undesirable place to live for much of Willemstad’s early history. It wasn’t until the 1870s that the neighborhood came into fashion. Jewish merchants were the first to recognize its potential and mansions began to spring up along Scharlooweg. The process only accelerated after Pietermaai was devastated by a hurricane in 1877, prompting Curaçao’s elite to look for a more secure home.

But the glory days of Scharloo were short-lived. The grand residences are still there, but few (if any) of them are owned by families as private homes. Some have been bought by businesses, others by the state, and a considerable number have been left to deteriorate.

Scharloo Mansions Willemstad

We took a stroll through the Scharloo on a quiet Sunday afternoon, and found the vibe to be more of “desolate creepiness” than “refined opulence.” All the stores were closed, and the only people we encountered were two drunk guys, one of whom decided that he was going to give us a tour of the neighborhood, protests to the contrary be damned. Luckily, stumbling drunks are easy to outdistance.

But the mansions in the Scharloo really are amazing. Most of them are on Scharlooweg, the long street which runs parallel to the Waaigat Harbor. Just like all the houses on Curaçao, Scharloo’s mansions come in a rainbow of vibrant color. Forest green, cotton candy pink, blood red, sky blue, and all of them with neoclassical flourishes like white columns, triangular pediments and decorated cornices.

Scharloo’s golden age might have come to an end, but that doesn’t mean its story is over. Seeing the potential in the neighborhood’s grand architecture, investors have been renovating them as guesthouses and boutique hotels, similar to what’s already happened in Pietermaai. Although we love the romantic and mysterious atmosphere generated by huge, dilapidated mansions, it’s a good thing that this historic neighborhood isn’t being totally neglected.

Location of Scharlooweg on our Map

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Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
Scharloo Mansions Willemstad
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January 18, 2016 at 11:06 pm Comments (0)
The Historic Neighborhood of Punda Punda was the first area in Willemstad to be colonized by the Dutch, and today has become famous for the superb condition of its colorful, 18th-century buildings. Although we lived in Otrobanda, we crossed the bay almost daily to spend time in Punda, to eat, shop, or just enjoy the neighborhood's lively atmosphere.
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